by Marsha Novak, GCFP
“Mr. Duffy lived a short distance from his body.” – James Joyce
(From the short story “A Painful Case”)
I just love this line. But what does early 20th-century Irish literature have to do with my work as a Feldenkrais® practitioner?
WHAT I typically do, especially in individual sessions, is help folks of all ages and abilities with movement related problems. There are lots of things I could say about HOW I do that. Though specifics may vary, the key – and this brings us back to Mr. Duffy – is to help people truly live in their bodies. Let’s explore why that matters.
Most fundamental is the biomechanical level. How well do all of our joints and muscles work harmoniously so that movement is comfortable and coordinated? Can we do what we want to do and not find ourselves injured or in pain? In the case of “neurologic conditions,” can we gain or regain basic movement skills?
What I know from years of experience is that for any of this to happen, we really must learn to pay attention to the feeling of the movement from inside ourselves.
How many of us exercise with our minds distant from our bodies? Then, we get injured and are prescribed a list of exercises to do, often by following a photo or watching a brief demonstration. Mechanics, not sensation, are what we’re directed to focus our attention on.
Once we can sense quality movement ourselves, we are less likely to get injured and have better tools for recovery if we do. If we participate in sports or performing arts, we often find that our skills improve, sometimes dramatically.
As Moshe Feldenkrais himself said …
“The aim is a body that is organized to move with minimum effort and maximum efficiency, not through muscular strength, but an increased consciousness of how it works.”
Not surprisingly, group Feldenkrais® classes are called Awareness Through Movement® lessons.
Please note- Awareness Through Movement and not Awareness of Movement. I often say, “the devil is in the details.” And in this case, the nuance was initially lost on me.
I came from a physical therapist background. My initial reason for studying the Feldenkrais Method® was to find new and better tools for the types of problems I was already working with. I remember going to a pre-training orientation and hearing that Moshe Feldenkrais never intended his work to be physical therapy. He saw it as a way to optimize human potential in whatever way appropriate to an individual. At the time I thought that was odd. I no longer do.
In the Feldenkrais Method, movement is used as the “object of attention or awareness,” similar to how the breath is often used in sitting meditation practices. As we become more attuned to the subtlety of our movements, we also tend to be more aware of the uniqueness of outer and inner landscapes. The benefits of this awareness are typically similar to those associated with other mindfulness practices. They include feeling less stressed, being more creative, seeing our surroundings in different ways, and being less reactive in conflict.
Now back to Mr. Duffy. His challenges were not about some specific physical problem. He struggled with what it was to be human and living during stressful and challenging times. Sound familiar? Now, I’m not about to call the Feldenkrais Method the magical cure for troubling times, personal or global. What I can say from direct experience is that when I am physically present and grounded, living inside my body, it makes it easier to be alive during these stressful and challenging times.
Feldenkrais practitioners actually prefer to refer to the “self” as a whole, for what is a mind without a body or a body without a mind? Though the gateway into this work is often through physical difficulty, for many, especially if they stick with the work, the benefits go beyond what they thought they were looking for. Try this lesson below and experience the possibilities of being fully integrated!
A LITTLE MINDFUL MOVEMENT EXPLORATION:
To start, go over to a cabinet and reach for something a bit “out of reach.”
Notice how this feels in your shoulder and body overall. Notice the role of other parts of yourself, if any, in helping you reach. Ribs? Shoulder blade?
Now elongate your ribs on the same side as the arm you are reaching with.
Notice how that feels. How can you apply this to your reaching?
Can you reach again paying attention to how the ribs can become involved? Is it getting any easier?
Now press down on the foot opposite to the reaching side noticing how that can shift your weight toward the “reaching side.”
Reach one more time combining that push off the opposite foot and the expansion of the ribs as you reach. Easier still?
On a “physical level” using ground forces (the pushing of the foot) and distributing movement through more of our body parts typically reduces strain thus preventing injury and supporting recovery should one happen.
Now contemplate this …feeling support from the ground and ease in your body, what just a little bit challenging goal might you reach for?
Marsha Novak is a Guild Certified Feldenkrais Practitionercm living and working on Bainbridge Island, WA. She is on a mission to help the public understand that the Feldenkrais Method is more than “alternative physical therapy.” Marsha graduated from the Berkeley 3 training with Elizabeth Beringer in 2003. Find out more at movingwellbainbridge.com